Earth Day is coming right up, and we’re certain to hear lots of reminders to “Think globally.” Here are some reminders of things savvy consumers can do to “act locally” and help the environment.
We’ve urged consumers in the past to be as wise in disposing of their unwanted goods as they were in buying them. Gently used items are in demand, whether as hand-me-down items family members can put to use or at secondhand stores. Our only caution here: Please don’t resell any items (especially children’s clothes and goods) that have been recalled for safety reasons.
Electronics make up a large percentage of our waste stream, and there are places where these items can go so they don’t become landfill fodder. Cell phones are always needed at social action agencies, especially women’s shelters. Maine has a system of shared responsibility for recycling consumer electronics. You can also learn more at the website of the National Center for Electronics Recycling, www.electronicsrecycling.org.
Estimates vary on the percentage of household waste that can be composted, reused or recycled. Before Brewer’s “pay-as-you-throw” system went into effect Jan. 1, the city’s environmental protection director estimated total tonnage of municipal solid waste shipped to the PERC incinerator would drop 40 percent in a year. Director Ken Locke says the average tonnage for the first three months of 2011 dropped to 115 tons, from the previous five-year average of 251 tons a month.
Composting may be the easiest way to reduce household trash; much of our food waste can be turned into compost. The basic rule is this: If it grew in the ground, it can go back into the ground. Avoid putting meat, bones or anything else that will attract scavengers in your compost. Uneaten fruits, vegetables and coffee grounds form the basis of most householders’ compost heaps. Add grass clippings to increase the nitrogen component; dried leaves are great if you need more on the carbon side. Keep the pile moist (not soaked), turn it every so often, and before you know it, you’ll have rich, dark compost to enrich your garden soil.
Another Earth Day reminder concerns household cleaners. Avoid any that are labeled with the skull-and-crossbones logo; poison control centers handle too many cases involving children playing with toxic cleaning products. Some of the worst are drain cleaners. Instead of heavy-duty commercial brands, try adding a half-cup of baking soda to a half-cup of vinegar. The fizzy result may be enough to loosen that clog.
There’s lots of advice around on “greening” your household products. We won’t second-guess consumers, since their tap water and other variables may demand a lot of research. We’ll simply advise that green and clean are not mutually exclusive and urge readers to determine what works best for them.
A final word on the topic is “greenwashing.” Some companies claim to be environmentally conscious and hold up green “certifications” as a kind of badge. Some of these documents are bought and sold with little backing them up, so take a second look at the certifying agency. Truly green companies should welcome such scrutiny.
We might reduce our waste generation by having fewer things in the first place. Next week, we’ll discuss the manufactured demand-built-in obsolescence cycle and its effects on our consumption.
Consumer Forum is a collaboration of the Bangor Daily News and Northeast CONTACT, Maine’s membership-funded, nonprofit consumer organization. Individual and business memberships are available at modest rates. For assistance with consumer-related issues, including consumer fraud and identity theft, or for more information, write: Consumer Forum, P.O. Box 486, Brewer 04412, go to http://necontact.wordpress.com, or email firstname.lastname@example.org.